Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Day 30: Erwin Explorations

April 6: I wound up spending most of the morning working on Atlas Quest rather than this blog. A surprising number of problems and bugs had cropped up that needed attending to. Thinking the lunch shuttle into town left at the same time today as it did yesterday (12:30), I wound up missing the shuttle which decided to leave earlier today (at 12:00).


Uncle Johnny’s!


It wasn’t the end of the world, though—downtown Erwin was a mere 4 miles away. Today was a zero day for me—zero in the sense of zero trail miles. I certainly could just walk into town, and that’s what I proceeded to do.


It wasn’t more than 5 minutes later, however, when a driver pulled over and asked if he could give me a ride. Sure! I wasn’t even trying to hitchhike and managed to score a ride! =) Richard gave me a ride to the far side of town, dropping me off near Hardees which I had no problem with. I stopped into Hardees for lunch, then slowly worked my way back to Uncle Johnny’s. I stopped at Food Lion on the way back to do some more resupplying, and wondered a bit around the downtown core looking for the Hanging Elephant Antique Shop.


I remembered it vividly from my first thru-hike because the side of the building had a mural of a giant elephant being hung to death. That’s the kind of thing that sticks out in one’s head! It’s even more vivid because it’s a true story—Erwin’s most notorious story involves hanging a real, live elephant from a railroad crane. In short, Mary (the elephant), had killed a handler and she was sentenced to death, and the powers-that-be had decided that the best way to execute her was by hanging her from a railroad crane in front of a crowd of thousands. It was a spectacle that I’m sure nobody at the hanging would ever forget. Just to be clear, this happened 99 years ago in 1916. One hiker, when I told him about Erwin being famous for having hung an elephant, was shocked thinking it happened a few years ago or something! Like, yeah, back in 2003 they were still hanging elephants! *rolling eyes* =)


Mary hasn’t gotten a historical marker, but I was amused to learn that Erwin was supposed to be called Ervin but a mix-up at the post office turned it into Erwin. =) I had no idea the post office had wielded such power!


But it is an event that the town of Erwin would like to forget because there are no memorials to Mary, nothing to mark her grave and they did not see fit to even put up one of those roadside plaques describing the event. If you go into Erwin, it had been whitewashed of any reference to the hanging of Mary—all except for this one antique shop that had created a giant mural on the side of the building showing the event. I wanted to take a photo of it and walked all around town, but couldn’t find it.


Eventually, I figured that even that one reference had been whitewashed away. No more could I buy a postcard of Mary’s hanging. I was a little sad to realize that. Not that Mary’s execution should be glorified per se, but at least recognized for the tragedy that it was. Imagine if all history books were written to skip the bad parts. Hey, let’s just skip over that whole slavery thing our country used to condone. Let’s not remember how we stole and looted the lands of the Native Americans. No, people need to remember this stuff. It’s not something to be proud of, but it’s a reminder not to let something like that happen again. Erwin, however, is a town that would rather forget its past—at least the dark side of its past.


After giving up the search for evidence of Mary, I walked back to Uncle Johnny’s along a bike path that followed along a creek. Noise of Interstate 26 marred the otherwise tranquil and pleasant walk, but it was still preferable to walking along the surface streets of town back to the hostel.


Then, for the rest of the night, I worked on this blog, taxes, and a little TV. =)


The public library is in this old building which I believed used to be the town’s train station and is probably not far from where Mary was hung. I had wi-fi at the hostel and didn’t need anything from the library, but during my last hike (in 2003) I did use the library’s computer to get online. And I remembered the mural with Mary being nearby, so I went to the library and wandered around hoping to find it, but I never did…


During my explorations, I found this “homeless encampment” made up of… cats! You can see three white cats near the right side of the image, but when I first walked up, there were about a dozen cats loitering around and my presence scared most of them off. (There are other cats inside the cat-houses looking at me, but you can’t really see them in this photo.) I’d never seen what appeared to be a camp for stray cats before. Seems like Erwin is treating their animal population better now than they did back in 1916!


wassamatta_u said...

Here's a full account of the terrible tragedy of Mary:

BOOTY said...

The post office has, or at least, had, a lot of power hwen it came to the naming of towns. One of my great-grandfathers was postmaster in Willow Bend, UT, some miles away from Salina. But they had to drive in the horse and buggy to Salina every day for the mail. So they petitioned the postmaster for their own post office. The postmaster said there were already too many towns named Willow Bend, and that if they wanted their own post office, they'd have to rename the town. So grandpa's daughter suggested Aurora, because it was a pretty name and she liked what she'd read about the Aurora Borealis. The town voted, and agreed, and they changed their name and got their own post office. They're still proud of their post office, and have signs up on the main drag pointing up the side street to the place. And that's how much clout the post office people have. And that's how my several greats-grandma named a town.